What is the future cost of the click-bait movement?

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The movement against click-bait is reaching a tipping-point of sorts.  While false transfer-rumours and misleading headlines are still pulling numbers through the doors, there seems to be a growing resistance against this cheap internet trick and a recognition that it’s dragging the football publishing industry in a direction which is better avoided.

Watching the growth of this mini-industry has been truly depressing.  Sensationalism has always existed and, as a commodity, it has always been a precious tool.  The difference now is that more often than not it’s being manufactured for the sake of tricking internet users and goading them into a mouse-click.

Fictional stories are created; contrary angles are constructed; trap-headlines are laid.

There is plenty of good content still available and many internet publishers are nobly resisting the urge to trade their credibility for digital revenue but now, more so than ever before, click-bait is inescapably aggressive.  Rather than being easily avoidable, it lurks around every corner waiting and in some of the most unlikely places.

Frequent, repeat offenders like The Metro and The Express are, of course, simple enough to dodge by virtue of essentially having always been of little value, but the infection has spread well beyond the dregs of the industry.  Spend a day following The Telegraph’s twitter feed, for example, and you’ll be exposed to all the emojis, exclamation-marks and suggestion that would previously have been beneath a broadsheet.

It’s absolutely everywhere.

None of that is news to anybody and, even within the walls of this site, it’s a frequent enough complaint.  The most troubling aspect however, relates to what effect it will have long-term.  Without knowing any better, newsrooms now seem to be stocked by those who are capable of re-arranging sentences but not of actually writing them and well-reasoned pieces seem to appear as appeasement rather than as standard.

There are plenty of exceptions.  At each of the reputable sports-covering papers in this country, there are writers of the finest pedigree.  On any given day, something in The Guardian, The Times or The Telegraph will appear that has been written to an extremely high-standard, but the authors who produce those pieces - tragically - are probably not the ones who bring the most value to their employers.

As a case in point - and apologies for how excruciating it will be to consider this - the collective readership of the finest football writers in the country is, on a weekly basis, probably easily eclipsed by whatever contrived provocation Adrian Durham chooses to construct.

That’s terrible but, worse, it’s probably a precursor to the future.

So the question is really this: if volume and traffic are allowed to become prioritised to an even greater extent, what will that breed in the coming years?  Will trainee sportswriters aspire to the literary standard and eclecticism of Paul Hayward, George Caulkin or Rory Smith, or will they pursue the notoriety and the pay-cheque afforded to those who are adept at provoking, prodding and tricking the online audience?

Eventually, will the professional requirement for this industry be limited to an ability to manipulate tribalism, a knowledge of Google translate and an insatiable appetite for attention at any costs?

It’s a chilling thought.

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1 Comment on "What is the future cost of the click-bait movement?"

  1. Having run football coverage some years ago for a huge US portal it was always the case that click bait plus unceasing coverage of the ‘big four’ was always going to win the day.

    Big name writers were hired, but the metrics didn’t lie. Few read the really great stuff. Most clicked on galleries and yes, we were sometimes guilty, spurious headlines. Most tuned in to live coverage of big four games. Very few ever followed other clubs. Anything outside the perm just didn’t exist. Which ensured a race to the bottom, the narrowing of ambition and in the end the closure of all original football (and sport) content.

    No solution proffered here, but perhaps the future is the enthusiastic (and often better informed) amateur or small business. Can’t see many large news cos paying star writers who no one reads, never mind their peerless prose. Data has its place, but for the bean counters it offers no better use than helping them decide where the axe will fall.

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